Season ‘False Starts’ Don’t Have Me Down

False starts happen at track meets all the time. The runners dig in, get set and the starter’s pistol cracks. Then it cracks again.

Somebody broke early, or, as the saying goes, “jumped the gun,” and the runners have to come back and start the race all over again.
Unlikely as it may seem, I was once one of those fast, skinny kids who knelt in the cinders with my feet in the blocks, and I know how it feels to be ready and raring to go, adrenaline surging, eyes focused on the finish line … and then hearing that second gun before you hit your stride.

If you’ve never had that experience, let me describe it: it feels absolutely awful. It robs you of both energy and determination. It makes it much harder to wind yourself up for maximum effort on the restart. And if by some hideous misfortune there’s a second false start and you have to come back and do it yet again, it just about finishes you off as a contender in that particular race. At least, that’s how false starts always affected me. I won my share of races, but I never, not once, placed in a race that began with a false start.
And as I write these words, just before Christmas, my trapping partner and I are waiting for a winter storm to clear out so we can make our fourth try of the year to get a productive trapline going.

That’s right, three false starts so far. We started with high hopes for a big ’coon catch on our bucket line on a large Corps of Engineers lake, but this year produced a banner mast crop and there was too much food available. Literally everything made — red and white oaks, persimmons, black cherry, grape, hackberry, pecan, you name it — and the ’coons simply weren’t interested in our fish oil-soaked dog food. We caught some ’coons, sure, plus assorted other stuff in traps and snares we set along with the buckets, but it was a pretty disappointing first two weeks.

We decided to try a multi-species line on the river below the lake. We’d made a pre-season scouting run on the river, and we saw an abundance of otter, beaver, ’coon and mink sign. Due to high lake levels, the powers that be had been keeping the river high and stable in an effort to drain the lake to an acceptable level. The relatively stable water level of the river made it easy to pick out the trails and travelways, and we figured we’d be able to mop up on a wide variety of species.

What we hadn’t counted on, though, was somebody else getting there ahead of us. When we started setting the river, we found catch circle after catch circle in the places we wanted to set. After three days of it, we pulled our traps and moved to another section of river farther downstream.

That’s when the folks that control the water level in the river decided the lake was now low enough. They reduced the water releases by about 80 percent, and literally overnight the river fell 6 feet. All those well-used high-bank travelways dried up, and we started finding fresh tracks well below the level of our sets.

We stuck it out for another week, waiting for them to turn the water loose again. They never did.

We could’ve moved our sets down to accommodate the new water level, of course. But we’ve made that mistake before; as soon as you do something like that on this river, they’ll turn the water loose again and your sets will be 6 feet under.

So, with an extended winter storm headed our way, we made the executive decision to bust another cap in the starter pistol and declare yet another false start. I’ve been piddling around with a few sets here close to the house — Jill and I each caught a gray fox this morning, matter of fact — but the heavy-duty trapline effort is once again on hold while we get back into the blocks and prepare ourselves for the fourth start of the season.

You’d think we’d be getting discouraged by now. Given my reaction to those false starts when I was running high school track, I’m a little surprised to learn I’m as eager to get this fourth trapline attempt going as I was on opening day, before any of this bad luck happened. I guess I like running traps better than I liked running laps…

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark. is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send mail to P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 or e-mails to modernmountainman@gmail.com.

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